Apple is the number one target for "patent trolls", with 171 cases total in the last five years, according to PatentFreedom (via Fortune). This puts the company ahead of Hewlett Packard, currently in second place with 137 cases, and Samsung, with 133. Dell, Sony, HTC, and LG all made the top 10 with a combined 1,218 cases between them.
A patent troll, or "non-practicing entity" (NPE) is defined by research firm PatentFreedom as "any entity that earns or plans to earn the majority of its revenue from the licensing or enforcement of its patents".
Michael Brody, an intellectual property specialist at Winston & Strawn, told an audience at Stanford University earlier this week that a patent, "is nothing more or less than a license to sue someone" and claimed that in 2012, more than 4,200 separate companies or individuals were sued by NPEs, with the average licensing cost for cases settled out of court being around $29.75 million.
Since 2004 onwards, the number of lawsuits involving NPEs has risen sharply and PatentFreedom has reported a 1300 percent increase in cases between 2004 and 2013. The site suggests that this may be due to a 100 percent increase in the number of patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) during the same period.
Over the years, Apple has faced litigation from a number of patent-holding companies like Lodsys, which targeted app developers over in-app purchases, and VirnetX, a company that was awarded $368.2 million over VPN connectivity in Facebook in 2012.
Apple faces a new lawsuit filed today by Remote Locator Systems, alleging that Apple's "Find My Friends" and "Find My iPhone" apps violate a patent held by the company.